Abdel Baset al Megrahi — a former Libyan intelligence officer who was the only person ever convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing — died at home in Tripoli yesterday nearly three years after he was released from a Scottish prison to the outrage of the relatives of the attack’s 270 victims.
He was 60.
Scottish authorities released al Megrahi on Aug 20, 2009 on compassionate grounds to let him return home to die after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, doctors predicted he had only three months to live.
Anger over the release was further stoked by the hero’s welcome he received on his arrival in Libya — and by subsequent allegations that London had sought his release to preserve business interests in the oil-rich North African nation, strongly denied by both the British and Scottish governments.
Al Megrahi insisted he was innocent, but he kept a strict silence after his release, living in the family villa surrounded by high walls in a posh neighbourhood in Tripoli, mostly bedridden.
Libyan authorities sealed him off from public access. A year after his release, some who visited him said al Megrahi bitterly mused that the world was rooting for him to die.
His son, Khaled al Megrahi, confirmed he had died in a telephone interview, but hung up before giving more details.
Saad Nasser al Megrahi, a relative and a member of the ruling National Transitional Council, said al Megrahi had died of cancer-related complications.
To the end, al Megrahi insisted he had nothing to do with the bombing “I am an innocent man,” he said in his last interview, published in several British papers in December. “I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family.”
The father of one of the Lockerbie victims said al Megrahi’s death was “to a degree a relief” and insisted his 2009 release from jail was a political deal.
“If he had been that bad three years ago, he wouldn’t have lived this long. It was a political deal,” said Glenn Johnson from Pennsylvania, whose 21-year-old daughter Beth Ann Johnson was killed in the bombing.
Al Megrahi’s death — which came seven months after ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed — leaves many unanswered questions.
A spokesman for some British families who lost loved ones in the bombing said he always believed al Megrahi was innocent.
“His death is to be deeply regretted,” said David Ben-Ayreah. “As someone who attended the trial I have never taken the view that Megrahi was guilty. Megrahi is the 271st victim of Lockerbie.”
The US, Britain, and prosecutors in his trial contended he did not act alone and carried out the bombing at the behest of Libyan intelligence.
After Gaddafi’s fall, Britain asked Libya’s new rulers to help fully investigate but they put off any probe.
Little was known about al Megrahi. At his trial, he was described as the “airport security” chief for Libyan intelligence, and witnesses reported him negotiating deals to buy equipment for Libya’s secret service and military.
To Libyans, he was an innocent scapegoat used by the West to turn their country into a pariah. The regime presented his hand-over to Scotland in 1999 as a necessary sacrifice to restore Libya’s relations with the world. But in the eyes of many in the US and Europe, he was the foot-soldier carrying out orders from Gaddafi’s regime.
The bombing that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec 21, 1988 was one of the deadliest terror attacks in modern history. Aboard the New York bound flight were many US students flying home for Christmas.
Death ends years of political tensions
The death of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al Megrahi following a battle with cancer brings to an end years of legal and political controversy.
But for the families of the 270 people killed when a New York- bound jet was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in Dec 1988, many questions remain unanswered.
Al Megrahi was born in Tripoli in 1952. By the late 1980s he had become a director of Libya’s Centre for Strategic Studies and later headed up Libyan Arab Airlines’ security operations. Prosecutors said he used his position to organise, prepare and carry out the Lockerbie bombing and it was claimed he secretly worked for the Libyan Intelligence Service.
Al Megrahi was linked to the massacre by fragments of clothing found wrapped around the remnants of the Lockerbie bomb. He was indicted in 1991 after a lengthy probe by UK and US police.
After the formal accusation, there followed years of diplomatic bargaining with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi before the suspects were handed over for trial.
At a specially convened court in the Netherlands in 2002, al Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years. His co-accused was cleared.
A first appeal against his conviction was rejected in 2002. His lawyers then successfully applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal in 2007. But just over a year later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which had spread and was at an advanced stage.
Al Megrahi applied to the High Court to be freed pending the outcome of his appeal. By the time his second appeal got under way, his condition had worsened.
A few weeks later an application to have him transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in Libya was lodged, and at the same time al Megrahi applied to be freed on compassionate grounds.
In Aug 2009, amid a storm of international protest, al Megrahi was released from Greenock Prison and allowed to fly home.
While many are convinced of his guilt, there are some, particularly in Britain, who believe he is innocent.
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